Public consultations for Don Sahong dam commence

The first regional public consultation on the Don Sahong hydropower project took place in Pakxe town of Champassak province on Friday to further the Mekong River Commission’s prior consultation process.

Don Sahong channel where the proposed 260-megawatt hydropower project in the south of Laos is planned.

The meeting served as a forum for experts from Laos, Cambodia, Thailand and Vietnam to share their concerns and pose questions about the proposed 260-megawatt run-of-river project in the south of Laos.

The forum was also open to civil society, non-governmental organisations, research institutes and regional and international organisations.

The public consultation is part of the transparency process by which the Lao government can share information about the merits of the hydropower project with all interested parties in the four countries.

About 100 people attended the regional public consultation, which was organised by the Mekong River Commission (MRC).

A site visit to Don Sahong was arranged on Thursday so the stakeholders could see the project for themselves and ask questions of the project staff, experts and the villagers who live near the site.

Lao Ministry of Energy and Mine’s Policy and Planning Department Director General Dr Daovong Phonekeo told Vientiane Times that “We have collected information about this project since 2007, notably the issues related to water flow, fish passage and water quality.

Surveys conducted by foreign experts enable us to explain to the participants that everything about the project has been done in a scientific manner.”

“We’re confident that at the end of the regional consultation, the participants will have more information and gain better understanding about the Don Sahong project. We hope that their concerns will be put to rest because we are being transparent and open with this information.”

This is the second time that the MRC has carried out the Prior Consultation process for a project along the Mekong River in Laos.

The first process conducted for the Xayaboury Hydropower Project in the north of Laos resulted in important improvements to that project, which is also a run-of-river scheme that requires no large reservoir.

Chief Executive Officer of the MRC Secretariat Mr Hans Guttman said: “As a result of the prior consultation for Xayaboury some recommendations from other member countries have been taken into account by Laos in the redesign of the Xayaboury project. But there were important lessons to be learnt.”

“… for the Don Sahong project, several national consultation/information sharing meetings have been organised by the respective National Mekong Committees and more are planned. In addition, we have the opportunity to carry out a public consultation at the regional level like today.”

The purpose of the Prior Consultation process is not to seek approval for a proposed project. Rather, it is a platform for Cambodia, Thailand and Vietnam, as notified countries, to raise issues of concern on potential effects the project may have on their territories, with technical review and analysis facilitated by the MRC Secretariat, he said.

In September 2013, the Lao government submitted the project proposal for Don Sahong Hydropower project under the notification process to the MRC Secretariat.

It (the government) later agreed to put the project under the prior consultation process in a move to allay concerns raised by its neighbours. The six-month prior consultation process will end on January 25, 2015.

The Lao PDR is committed to keeping alive the spirit of the 1995 Mekong Agreement, which aims to promote comprehensive cooperation for sustainable development in the region.